Ash talks about life and the book The Art of Racing in the Rain.
Guest blog author and follower Eric Lorraine writes a fantastic comparison of the GT350 and Boss 302.
2012 Boss 302 vs 2016 GT350 by Eric Lorraine
Important disclaimer: I wasn’t always a car guy. In youth, I had friends with Lamborghini and Ferrari posters on their walls, but that wasn’t me. I did at one point have a Ferrari Testarossa on a folder in my Trapper Keeper (thanks Mom), but that was just a fluke.
It wasn’t until about 2010 that I discovered emotion could be elicited from a car. I’d witnessed a 1969 Iso Grifo in a deep burgundy start up, which forced me to finally “get it.” At the time I had just relegated a handy commuter - a 2000 “Laser Red” Mustang V6 5-speed - to an early grave due to an unfortunate hydrolocking incident and was subsequently driving a 2005 Ford F150 which could withstand similar such torrents with absolute impunity. I never forgot the exhaust note on that Grifo though.
In 2012 I was on the night shift as a resident at the local hospital, and would go right down the YouTube automotive rabbit hole between answering calls. And somewhere in the mix, I landed on a clip that just made me think “I need this sound in my life.”
Come to find out, it was the exhaust note of a 2012 Boss 302 Mustang, which happened to fit a predilection I apparently had for Mustangs.
I made some phone calls; and found my future car - which I bought sight unseen but notably in “Race Red” with black stripes and black roof - and had a 2 year love affair with it. That carried on until April 2015, when the initial teasers of the new GT350 started. Calling back to an earlier thought, pattern established, my brain decided “I need THIS sound in my life.” (Oddly enough, the same phrase is shared by Matt Farah, so it’s not just me). As such I had to let the Boss go for faster and newer things. A 2016 Mustang GT350, in “Race Red,” with, you guessed it, black stripes and a black roof now lives in my garage.
So that’s a lot of windup for an introduction.
Apples to Crab-apples:
As it stands, I’ve got 1600 miles on the Shelby and I sold the Boss with about 25k. I daily these cars, because I’ll be damned if I’ll ever finance a car to sit in my garage. With both cars having track intent, each shoots for a high redline, but the Boss’s relatively nuts 7500 RPM is dwarfed by the Shelby’s unreal 8250 RPM. The “Voodoo” motor is insane – there’s a reason the old Stig made the “loco gesture” after crossing the finish at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
You’re used to basing shifts on two typical inputs from a car, one of which is the noise, and the other, the buttdyno. The “problem,” in the GT350 is that the exhaust gets to shift-loud around 4000RPM and your buttdyno screams to shift around 6500RPM because you’re waiting for the horsepower plateau, but it’s not coming (and I don’t mean it’s coming late, I mean it’s not coming at all). All the while the car continues to throttle you forward like you’re ripping a hole in space-time. At 7500 RPM, I’m pretty sure you’re having a conversation with God, and around 8250 RPM you’re not sure what’s real anymore and if you even want to come back. You’d better hope you brought your totem. While the Boss motor was raw, and sounded fantastic, and side exhaust is the automotive equivalent of hot fudge on a sundae (technically completely unnecessary, absolutely calorically preposterous, but positively deliciously makes a good thing better), the Voodoo+exhaust is like an ice cream sundae with hot fudge served inside a chocolate dipped waffle cone and served inside a somehow larger sundae. This car has me so close to mixing metaphors.
The Boss was adequate on the street in the braking department but I’ve said before they were more likely to set themselves on fire than set the world on fire. A decent set of Brembos were scavenged from the parts bin; but I always felt like the Boss cars deserved something a little more bespoke. Apparently the FordPerformance Team kept a little something in the tank for the future. The brakes on the GT350 are sublime. For starters, they look the part with a two piece rotor, and in practice they’ll test your seatbelt tensioner when you invariably get brake happy. It’s the absolute best tool for truly scaring your passenger, they’ll think their terror is over when you finally hit the brake but nope! Rumors of brake fade are few and far between. And my inner boy-racer is still infatuated with waiting outside the car after stopping and listening to the rotors contract/expand with glorious TING sounds. I will say I’ve had a harder time heel-toeing on the street in the GT350 because the damn brakes are so good it’s harder to time the throttle blip. The Boss pedal had great feel for street heel-toeing because the brakes were a little less dialed in.
When it comes to digging at the Boss 302, the lowest hanging of fruit was the shifter. Most drivers of MT-82-equipped Mustangs were not fans of the sloppy 1-2 and worse 2-3 shift, with the occasional ill-timed 3rd gear lockout. As such, the forums pretty much exploded with solutions from the MGW shifter to the Blowfish bracket and depending on application they either worked well, not well, or not at all. It was a real letdown for that particular “Roadrunner” engine, because it was begging for more, but the transmission and shifter had all the commitment potential of me back in high school. The Tremec gearbox in the GT350 is a little longer in the throw but more effective on the whole. It’s much easier to navigate, and makes the GT350 feel a lot more eager to be thrown around. You can expect you’ll slot it in the gear you want and the car will co-operate. It’s confidence inspiring.
In the domain of handling, it’s a really unfair comparison. The Boss sat on the finest tuned Solid Rear Axle, and I think that statement will hold water until the world stops because no one is going back to the SRA. The GT350 is the benefactor of a few years of development of an S550 platform geared for Independent Rear Suspension. Throw in the Magnaride option, and you’ve basically turned the Boss’s fullback “straight ahead but can turn” attitude into an agile running back. It’s a more graceful car, a more sporting car; like the GT350 got its bachelor's degree. When you get the GT350 loose, it feels calm and predictable in doing so. The car will hold your line for you, like a butler holding your champagne while you go shotgun a beer. And when you’re done hooning, it’ll welcome you back to “proper” driving and will reward you for more “appropriate” and “civilized” applications of throttle, braking and turning via speed and stability. The Boss was a lot wilder in that regard; the line between sliding and spinning was a hell of a lot narrower, with a propensity for full blown NASCAR infield theatrics. The Boss wears a fake tuxedo shirt and shotguns beers in trucker hats. I never thought it made a heck of a lot of sense to compare the Boss 302 to the BMW M3, except to point and laugh at Germany in a way to say “hey this can do what that can do but with a sense of humor.” That combined potential was something Ford captured so well with the Boss and really is where the GT350 loses out a little bit. It’s an American thought to consider the muscle car charming but hell, this is America and goddamnit it is charming.
That said, “dailying” a car is something else and requires certain amenities. “Because racecar” is an adorable slogan but it’s a steamy pile of hot garbage in practice if you daily a car. The Boss 302 was missing anything resembling a modern automobile: It had a crummy stereo, un-deleted buttons for features it lacked (NO SAT RADIO was my favorite mis-click), no bluetooth. I know this takes heat but “work happens” and occasionally you have a take a phone call in your car. If you lack Bluetooth and have a manual gearbox, you’re gonna have a bad time. So the GT350 has options for Sync3, heated and cooled seats, and a backup camera and you know what? I took them. Tough. Sometimes I want to answer my phone with a swamp-ass-less backside. Come at me. Plus, the Shelby just feels special when you walk up to it, key in pocket, and just touch behind the handle to get it to unlock. I know that’s a standard feature on the s550 but it makes you feel like the car chooses you.
This is the part in the comparison where the Shelby really defines itself for the track and maybe not as the better road car. Its potential is so high you can’t reach it in a reasonably safe way on the road. In second gear, you top out around 80mph, and in 3rd it’s north of 100 (I believe 120). That’s not safe for any non-track environment, and sliding it around corners is generally hard to do because the tire grip and chassis balance are so good. It’s composed, seasoned, and lets you know its capable. I believe that with the stock setup, the Boss was the better car for fun on regular roads because you can get it closer to its limit without blatantly violating the law. It’s like when Clarkson drove the Toyota GT86/FR-S on Top Gear. Driving with untapped potential is good for confidence during trips but will always leave you wondering what the car can actually do.
Is one car better than the other? Absolutely. The GT350 isn’t the Boss turned up to 11, it’s the Boss turned up to 12. But can you really take away from the King of the S197s? Not without admitting you have no soul (read: work for BMW). The Boss has charisma in spades, its own legacy and I feel it will hold up as THE S197 to own (sorry GT500’s 662HP). I can’t say the same of the GT350, only because Ford has only slowly started teasing out the rest of their s550 models. Rumors of a GT500 and a Mach 1 sit around the corner, with yet-to-be-determined characteristics. However, I suspect the GT350 will sit in a special place in Mustang lore, with the last great naturally aspirated American V-8. All I can say is that I think FordPerformance has their cards in order, and I'm grateful that 1969 Iso Grifo showed up just at the right time in my life.
Special thanks to Grant for offering me the option to write this and have it posted up somewhere.
Please check Eric's Instagram for more on his GT350!
It all started about a year ago, when myself and a friend got into racing Spec Miata. Originally we had planned to just do some Chump Car racing, but after running the numbers realized it was about the same cost to simply build a car to full SCCA spec, and then we could compete in a real league, and would have a car we could eventually sell were we so inclined.
For anyone just getting into racing, the best piece of advice you will ever get is this: start with something cheap, and underpowered, preferably with a manual transmission and rear wheel drive, and never put a car on a track you can’t afford to total. A Miata meets all of these criteria, and you will become a better driver from having one. Doing open HPDEs at Sebring in the Spec Miata against much more powerful, but heavier vehicles like BMW M3’s and Mustang GT’s was eye opening that horsepower means nothing if you can’t drive the line, and ride the absolute edge of traction through the corners. On a tight, technical course like Sebring, a new Mustang’s 350 horsepower was no match for our 220k mile, 95HP Miata in every section but the main and back straight. There is no better feeling than passing someone in a car that costs 1/10th the price, and has 1/3 the power.
Eventually, however, the lack of power will start eating at you. Even though you can blast by people in the technical sections, seeing the Corvette’s just walk away from you in the straights, just for you to catch them again at the next corner is aggravating. So can do you do? Buy a big horsepower, but heavy modern sports car like a Mustang to be in the same situation? Can’t do that; you’re too accustomed to eating corners for lunch in a glorified go-kart. So then you need a car with lots of horsepower, but not a lot of weight. The only modern cars that meet those criteria are exotics, and unless you’ve got $90k sitting around for a used Ferrari, thats out of the question. We’re looking at a budget of $10k to $15k max.
The problem is all cars made after 1990 or so when “safety” became important are HEAVY, even with extensive lightening. The other problem is everything thats old, light and cheap generally has no horsepower and is going to be unreliable. The solution? Buy something old and light, and dump a cheap, powerful, modern engine into it. And so it begins.
Right off the bat, we knew we were going to do an LS swap. For those of you already groaning “LS swaps are so played out and BORING” you’re absolutely right. Its the predictable choice. But its the predictable choice for very good reason. If you want big power, in a compact, reliable package, thats also light weight and has more aftermarket parts available than a Honda Civic, nothing else compares. These engines are mix and match, where you can put the heads from an LS 6.0L GTO engine onto a 5.3L so it’ll breathe better. Want more torque? Find some used headers from the Escalade version and slap them on. Need more high-end power? Pull the cam from a Corvette and put it into your Truck block. Its the Mr. Potato Head of engines.
The LS series of engines is also extremely compact, owed largely to it being a simple, push-rod style engine so there are no overhead cams taking up space on the heads so it’ll fit in basically any car you can imagine. And heres proof, using the most common 3 engines used for swaps of this kind into an E30. I know there are lots of variations of the LS and Ford engines, so these are just averages pulled off of Ebay listings for the more common variants. The cost is for a “long block” or full engine and accessories that should just need to be dropped in and have its wires and hoses connected:
Prices vary, but any way you slice it, the LS is going to be much cheaper per pony, plus GM put it in just about every vehicle they made for around 10 years, so you can find 20 sitting in any junkyard in town, instead of looking for very specifically optioned cars. For example, we found ours sitting in an otherwise totaled GMC Envoy 4x4 at a local “pick your part” junkyard which let us pull it out of the truck ourselves and take it away for a grand total of $250.
At this point, anyone who knows anything about LS engines probably just perked up a bit because the vast majority of the 5.3L LS1’s in trucks were iron blocks (heavy), but a select few were aluminum, the GMC Envoy 4x4 being one of them. This is because with the Envoy’s 4x4 system being horribly designed, basically running the front axle THROUGH the engine’s oil pan, there was too much weight on the front end, so they had to use the aluminum block to shed some weight. In fact, the aluminum variant is about 100lbs lighter.
The aluminum 5.3L usually sells for almost double or triple what a standard iron block goes for, but most scrappers who pull engines from junk yards and re-sell them don’t understand that the Envoy 4x4 is the aluminum block, so if you look for a bit, you can find and snag one for $250 at a Pull Your Part place, or just pay one of the scrappers $100 to do it for you if you don’t want to get dirty. Either way, you’ll have a $3,000 engine for under $500. You can also just go with an iron block if the extra 100lbs doesn’t bother you.
When figuring out what car to use in a swap like this, its largely about personal preference. This is still a budget build, so we wanted a donor that was light weight, had cheap aftermarket and used parts, somewhat modern suspension that
could handle the power, and ideally could be bought for under $1,000. Another requirement was that there needed to be a SCCA spec legal roll cage kit available. Theres an LS swap kit for basically every vehicle ever made (although we will be making our own) so we had lots of options. Seriously, just google “LS swap kit
Originally we wanted to do a Nissan 350Z but finding one cheap that hasn’t been in an accident is tough. Then we looked at older 240SX’s, but again same problem. Both of these options are also surprisingly heavy. Going with any of the common “drift bro” cars was also something we kind of wanted to avoid, so we started expanding our horizons until we found a 1986 BMW 325 sedan. Theres an entire Spec E30 class in SCCA and NASA, and these cars were prolific in the 80’s to early 90’s so theres tons of parts available in addition to roll cages and suspension kits. Also, weirdly, some of the brake and hub components are interchangeable with our Spec Miata, including the wheels. But the most surprising thing of all was the E30’s weight, which when stripped for racing comes in around 2,700lbs with the dash still intact, which is surprisingly close to the weight of a Miata. Compare this to the 3,600lbs of a Nissan 350Z, a “modern, lightweight sports car”. They don’t make em’ like they used to.
We found one for $800 than ran fine, had a nice leather interior, but had an issue with its automatic transmission. Seeing as how we would be ripping it out anyways, this was a perfect candidate since we could also sell the interior and engine for around $1,000 after removal, making this basically a free car.
Budget so far:
Car: $800, less $1,000 for parts once stripped
So now we’ve got an engine from a junkyard, and a 30 yr old BWM with a busted transmission. If that doesn’t scream “race car” I don’t know what does. Next I’ll dive into breaking down the engine, and doing a few performance upgrades to hopefully squeeze 400+ HP out of this trash heap special.
I've been doing autocross (SCCA solo racing) for about 7 months now. I dove right in and I've done about 10 events now including a national tour event. Yesterday was the first day I did an instructional school (SCCA Starting Line) for performance driving and today was my first autocross after the school. I honestly feel like I learned more in the school than I did in all of other events combined.
I finished 7th today out of 50 in raw time and 13th out of 50 on PAX, which I'm happy with. But I'm most happy with how much more consistent my driving was. My runs today were 48.7, 48.5, 49.7 (that one I made a mistake on), 48.4, 48.2, and finally 48.1. I improved every run and my times were all pretty consistent. In the past, I would occasionally get lucky and pull together a good clean run, but I would almost never be able to repeat it - so this is a big improvement.
I also felt like I was able to read the course better and decide how I should approach elements without having to ask people what to do. Not that asking for advice is bad, but in general I understood the flow of the course better.
I still tend to overdrive the car a bit more than I should be and I need to work on braking earlier. I worked on that at SCCA Starting Line school too, and I was better about it today. But before the school I wasn't able to as clearly understand where I was making those mistakes. After my runs today I could look back and identify where I lost time.
Anyways, if you read all this, thanks, and thank you again to Mike King for the instruction yesterday. It made a big difference.
Check out more from Ben in our Street mod autocross series on our YouTube Channel.